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Chapter 107: The Carpenter.


Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn, and take high
abstracted man alone; and he seems a wonder, a grandeur, and a woe. But
from the same point, take mankind in mass, and for the most part, they
seem a mob of unnecessary duplicates, both contemporary and hereditary.
But most humble though he was, and far from furnishing an example of
the high, humane abstraction; the Pequod's carpenter was no duplicate;
hence, he now comes in person on this stage.

Like all sea-going ship carpenters, and more especially those belonging
to whaling vessels, he was, to a certain off-handed, practical extent,
alike experienced in numerous trades and callings collateral to his own;
the carpenter's pursuit being the ancient and outbranching trunk of all
those numerous handicrafts which more or less have to do with wood as an
auxiliary material. But, besides the application to him of the generic
remark above, this carpenter of the Pequod was singularly efficient in
those thousand nameless mechanical emergencies continually recurring
in a large ship, upon a three or four years' voyage, in uncivilized
and far-distant seas. For not to speak of his readiness in ordinary
duties:--repairing stove boats, sprung spars, reforming the shape of
clumsy-bladed oars, inserting bull's eyes in the deck, or new tree-nails
in the side planks, and other miscellaneous matters more directly
pertaining to his special business; he was moreover unhesitatingly
expert in all manner of conflicting aptitudes, both useful and

The one grand stage where he enacted all his various parts so manifold,
was his vice-bench; a long rude ponderous table furnished with several
vices, of different sizes, and both of iron and of wood. At all times
except when whales were alongside, this bench was securely lashed
athwartships against the rear of the Try-works.

A belaying pin is found too large to be easily inserted into its hole:
the carpenter claps it into one of his ever-ready vices, and straightway
files it smaller. A lost land-bird of strange plumage strays on board,
and is made a captive: out of clean shaved rods of right-whale bone, and
cross-beams of sperm whale ivory, the carpenter makes a pagoda-looking
cage for it. An oarsman sprains his wrist: the carpenter concocts a
soothing lotion. Stubb longed for vermillion stars to be painted upon
the blade of his every oar; screwing each oar in his big vice of wood,
the carpenter symmetrically supplies the constellation. A sailor takes
a fancy to wear shark-bone ear-rings: the carpenter drills his ears.
Another has the toothache: the carpenter out pincers, and clapping
one hand upon his bench bids him be seated there; but the poor fellow
unmanageably winces under the unconcluded operation; whirling round the
handle of his wooden vice, the carpenter signs him to clap his jaw in
that, if he would have him draw the tooth.

Thus, this carpenter was prepared at all points, and alike indifferent
and without respect in all. Teeth he accounted bits of ivory; heads he
deemed but top-blocks; men themselves he lightly held for capstans. But
while now upon so wide a field thus variously accomplished and with such
liveliness of expertness in him, too; all this would seem to argue some
uncommon vivacity of intelligence. But not precisely so. For nothing was
this man more remarkable, than for a certain impersonal stolidity as
it were; impersonal, I say; for it so shaded off into the surrounding
infinite of things, that it seemed one with the general stolidity
discernible in the whole visible world; which while pauselessly active
in uncounted modes, still eternally holds its peace, and ignores you,
though you dig foundations for cathedrals. Yet was this half-horrible
stolidity in him, involving, too, as it appeared, an all-ramifying
heartlessness;--yet was it oddly dashed at times, with an old,
crutch-like, antediluvian, wheezing humorousness, not unstreaked now
and then with a certain grizzled wittiness; such as might have served
to pass the time during the midnight watch on the bearded forecastle
of Noah's ark. Was it that this old carpenter had been a life-long
wanderer, whose much rolling, to and fro, not only had gathered no moss;
but what is more, had rubbed off whatever small outward clingings
might have originally pertained to him? He was a stript abstract; an
unfractioned integral; uncompromised as a new-born babe; living without
premeditated reference to this world or the next. You might almost
say, that this strange uncompromisedness in him involved a sort of
unintelligence; for in his numerous trades, he did not seem to work so
much by reason or by instinct, or simply because he had been tutored to
it, or by any intermixture of all these, even or uneven; but merely by
a kind of deaf and dumb, spontaneous literal process. He was a pure
manipulator; his brain, if he had ever had one, must have early
oozed along into the muscles of his fingers. He was like one of
those unreasoning but still highly useful, MULTUM IN PARVO, Sheffield
contrivances, assuming the exterior--though a little swelled--of a
common pocket knife; but containing, not only blades of various sizes,
but also screw-drivers, cork-screws, tweezers, awls, pens, rulers,
nail-filers, countersinkers. So, if his superiors wanted to use the
carpenter for a screw-driver, all they had to do was to open that part
of him, and the screw was fast: or if for tweezers, take him up by the
legs, and there they were.

Yet, as previously hinted, this omnitooled, open-and-shut carpenter,
was, after all, no mere machine of an automaton. If he did not have a
common soul in him, he had a subtle something that somehow anomalously
did its duty. What that was, whether essence of quicksilver, or a few
drops of hartshorn, there is no telling. But there it was; and there it
had abided for now some sixty years or more. And this it was, this same
unaccountable, cunning life-principle in him; this it was, that kept
him a great part of the time soliloquizing; but only like an unreasoning
wheel, which also hummingly soliloquizes; or rather, his body was a
sentry-box and this soliloquizer on guard there, and talking all the
time to keep himself awake.